Living in California means treating the entire year as one big fire season. Weed abatement and tree trimming should be regular activities and choosing fire-resistant plants for landscaping should just be the norm at this point. However, as we now that we are well into the official fire season, it is a good reminder to take a look at our defensible spaces and ways to harden our homes against potential wildfires.
As the drought worsens and increases the risk for wildfires to spread quickly, reducing the potential for wildfires and limiting the spread of fires as much as possible is even more important. If we reduce the spread of fire, we reduce the amount of water needed to fight that fire.
While there is no way to make your home completely fireproof or to create an impenetrable firebreak around your property, there are things we can all do to reduce the risk of losing our homes to fire. Here are six home-hardening options to get you started.
1. Follow weed abatement and Fire Hazard Reduction Program (FHRP) guidelines.
Okay, you don’t have much choice here. If you are one of the many property owners in Ojai or Oak View who get an annual notice from the fire department reminding you to abate fire hazards on your property and you don’t do it, they will send a contractor to complete the work, and then send you the bill with an added administration fee. This means the abatement is going to happen one way or another, but you can avoid the additional fees and make sure your home is safer from wildfires as soon as possible by taking care of this yourself and maintaining your defensible space throughout the year.
2. Clean your gutters and your roof.
We have all heard about homes that are lost due to windblown embers igniting the roof. The thing folks often do not think about is that it does not always matter what kind of roof you have. Fire-resistant roofing materials, such as tile, composition, cement shingle, or metal, are an important part of keeping your home safer from fires, but simply having a roof made from these materials is not enough. If your roof is littered with dry, flammable debris or your gutters are filled with dead leaves, these materials can ignite and increase the risk of losing your home to wildfire. Keep your roof and gutters clear of debris to reduce this risk.
3. Store firewood away from structures and vegetation.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), you should stack your firewood at least 30 feet from structures. Additionally, CAL FIRE recommends maintaining a 10-foot, vegetation-free area around your firewood storage.
4. Choose drought-tolerant, fire-resistant plants.
Water conservation efforts can make it more difficult to keep vegetation green and reduce flammability, so it might be time to consider replacing water-loving plants with native, drought-tolerant plants that thrive with little water.
There are no plants that are truly fireproof, but there are many that are fire resistant. As part of the FHRP, the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) provides their Plant Reference Guide to assist homeowners in choosing plants. The guide provides information on common ornamentals used in landscaping, including plants that should be avoided. The guide also includes information on each variety’s drought tolerance, which can help you find the best options for saving water and creating a beautiful yard that is fire resistant.
You will also want to refer to VCFD Standard 515 – Defensible Space and Fuel Modification Zones for spacing and maintenance requirements, as well as Guideline 410 – Prohibited Plant List to find out which plants and trees are prohibited in new required defensible spaces and fuel modification zones. The publication also encourages homeowners to remove these plants and trees from existing defensible spaces. You might be surprised at some of the trees on this list that are commonly found near structures here, such as olive and pepper trees, so this list is worth a look.
These publications can be found on the Ventura County Fire Department website at VCFD.org.
5. Choose fire-resistant patio furniture, cushions, and covers.
Whenever possible, choose patio furniture and textiles that are fire resistant. Unfortunately, this means avoiding some popular options, such as wood or wicker furniture and doormats and outdoor rugs made from natural fibers. Instead, choose options that are less flammable, such as rubber or metal doormats, metal furniture, and flame-retardant fabrics for cushions, awnings, and umbrellas.
6. Look for places where flammable materials may collect.
Flammable materials, such as leaves, twigs, and sometimes even trash, can accumulate under bushes, in shrubs, under decks, around the base of trees, or in corners. Find these spots in your yard and make sure to clear debris from these areas regularly.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
Enjoy resort-style living at this country retreat on approximately 10 acres in Upper Ojai.
Just 10 minutes from the spas, boutiques, and cafes in downtown Ojai, this private oasis features a lighted, north-south tennis court with a large observation deck, swimming pool with beach entrance and wading pool, spa, outdoor kitchen, family orchard, art or yoga studio, and horse facilities.
Flagstone patios flank the main house for indoor-outdoor entertaining, while the guest house/pool house offers a gym, kitchenette, steam shower, enclosed outdoor shower and changing room, and pool and patio storage.
The main house features three fireplaces, large island with breakfast bar, Viking range with griddle, two refrigerators and freezers, wet bar, family room or library, media room, office, two guest wings, six-inch plank floors, custom light fixtures, and upscale finishes.
Additional features include a three-car garage, two-car garage, and separate laundry room with commercial machines.
Seven bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms
Waterfall at main entrance
Six-inch plank wood floors
Vaulted ceilings and ceiling fans
Large island with breakfast bar
Viking six-burner range with griddle
Two refrigerators and freezers
Two guest wings
Kitchenette in main guest wing
Family room or library
Media room with blackout curtains
Office with built-in desks
Large laundry room with storage
Custom light fixtures
Guest House /Pool House:
Steam shower with bench seating
Walk-in closet and linen closet
Separate shower and changing room
Pool and patio storage
Tile floor throughout
Approximately 10 acres
Spectacular mountain views
Two gated entries
Three-car garage + two-car garage with bathroom
Art or yoga studio above garage
Swimming pool with beach entrance
Pool features: wading pool, spa, slide, waterfall
Outdoor kitchen with grill, pizza oven & bar
Flagstone patios and walkways
Lighted, north-south tennis court with basketball hoops
Large entertaining/observation deck
Breezeway barn, shed-row barn, and mare motel
Arena with bleacher seating and turnout pens
Tesla solar panel field with backup batteries
Private agricultural well
Ample guest parking
Separate laundry room with commercial machines
Space for gardens or hobbies
Approximately 50 miles to Santa Barbara Airport
Approximately 60 miles to Burbank Airport
Approximately 10 minutes to downtown Ojai
Approximately 30 minutes to Ventura beaches
Nearby hiking and riding trails
For more photos and information, visit the property information page for this Upper Ojai home for sale.
Ojai summers are hot and dry with July and August being the hottest and driest months of the year. This does not keep folks from getting outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, but it does mean that most folks are seeking out opportunities to cool off in the shade whenever possible.
While the air temperature is not actually cooler in the shade than it is in the sun, it generally feels 10 to 15 degrees cooler when you are out of the sun because you are not being bombarded with solar radiation. This is why working outside in the sun on hot days is nearly unbearable but relaxing on your covered patio with a glass of iced tea feels perfectly fine.
Now in our third year of navigating life during a pandemic, most of us are ready for life to get back to some version of normal. For many, this includes an increasing number of social gatherings and hanging out with friends more often and with fewer protocols in place. One way to reduce risk while sharing time with friends and family is to do it outside.
So, let’s look at ways to create shaded oases where you and your guests can escape the sun’s radiation and enjoy time together in your outdoor living areas.
Use existing structures.
The cheapest, fastest way to create a shaded seating area is to simply move your patio furniture into the shade created by an existing wall or fence.
Another inexpensive, quick way to add shade to your yard is to place one or more umbrellas around your patio.
Add a solid roof or pergola.
If your budget allows for a bigger home improvement project, consider adding a solid roof structure to your outdoor living area. If this project seems too big or expensive, a pergola is another attractive option that can have its shade-producing capacity enhanced by adding a fabric cover.
Install shade sails.
I just added a shade sail from the roof of my covered deck to the fence, and I love how it both blocks the sun and obscures the view from my neighbors’ second-story window. Shade sails are affordable and available in lots of colors and sizes, so this a versatile option that is going to work for most backyards.
Hang patio curtains.
If you already have some type of roof structure over your outdoor living area, you can increase the shade while also enhancing privacy by hanging patio curtains.
Install an awning.
Awnings protect from both sun and rain and are available in stationary and retractable styles.
Use temporary canopies.
Pop-up canopies are easy to store when not in use and usually take just minutes to set up. This makes them perfect for impromptu playdates or creating multiple seating areas to give partygoers room to spread out.
If you need to bring in a professional to help create shade in your yard by hanging shade sails or building a pergola or other roof structure, remember to support the local economy by using local contractors.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a member of The Davis Group and a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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